Jefferson Productions did many projects in the '70s and early '80s for the New York ad agency Kenyon & Eckhardt. One of K&E's principal clients was the Ford Motor Company, whose TV spokesman for several years was Bill Cosby.
In 1978, K&E awarded Jefferson Productions a very special project: producing two commercials that were to run only once, in Ford's 75th anniversary two-hour CBS TV special.
One spot involved a giant, three-layer "birthday cake," so tall it required a studio that could accommodate the 40-foot cake. There would be an actual Model T on top, beside which would stand spokesman Cosby. California, here we come.
John tells the story.
That shoot was in Los Angeles at the Culver City Studios. The budget for the “Cake” spot, plus one other, was $350,000.
In addition to Ed Wade as director, the other JP personnel were: John McCorkle, Exec Producer; Jan Thompson, script; and Lionel Norman was the stand-in for Bill Cosby. Everyone else was L. A. based (union rules, you know). The cameraman we hired for the shoot was Roger Smith. Roger was terrific. (Four years later he happened to be the cameraman in the helicopter that crashed during filming of "Twilight Zone: The Movie," in which actor Vic Morrow and two Vietnamese child actors were killed. Roger spent a long time in the hospital recovering.)
The cars on and around the cake represented the different styles, models and “eras” of the company during it’s first 75 years. All but one of the cars were found in California. We had the Model T flown in from Detroit on a chartered Flying Tigers transport. (We had found one just like it in California but the one in Detroit belonged to a friend of the client and he wanted us to use that one. SO . . .for an overage of only $25,000 we obliged!)
For the second spot, we built a replica of the original Ford factory in Dearborn, Michigan. As part of the prep for the job, we flew to Dearborn and met the agency art director there, measured the building, took photos, etc. I hired a prop company in L. A. to duplicate it and they did. Perfectly. When the agency came to L. A. for the shoot, the art director looked at what we had built and declared, “The windows are too close to the ground.” After showing him that it was exactly what he had signed off on, he decided that he wanted to change it anyway. SO . . . for a mere $9,000 in overages, we re-did the front facade.
As a side note: Bill Cosby’s son, Ennis, spent a day on the set with us. He was about eight years old at the time and Bill asked me to find something for him to do. So, I got him a pair of headphones, set him down next to the sound man and told him he was the assistant sound man. At the end of the day, I gave him $5. Bill told me that was the first money he had ever earned. I still have a photo of him sitting there with his headphones on. Bill has one also. Tragically, Ennis was murdered in 1997.
Production Stills From The Shoot
Lionel Norman, a JP technician and some-time stand-up comic, could do a dead-on impression of Bill Cosby. It so delighted Bill that he requested Lionel as his stand-in on the California Shoot. That's Lionel atop the cake, "standing in."
Above the cake and the Model T, there had to be room for a very large scrim, and above that dozens of lights. That may be little Ennis Cosby in silhouette.
That's director Ed Wade in the black shirt at the "ground" layer of the plaster-coated cake. With him is Roger Smith, the cameraman.
Lionel Norman at left, John McCorkle at right. In the center is the irrepressible Andy Doyle, producer from K&E, doing his barely famous Toulouse-Lautrec impression.
Andy worked many times at Jefferson Productions, for Ford then later for Chrysler.
According to the clapper board, the date is August 17, 1978.
Playing back a take. That's Ed nearest the monitor. Behind him is K&E's Howie Staben, the creative/art director, and Andy Doyle, right.
It's a wrap. Everyone remaining on the set gathers for a "class photo." Everyone but John McCorkle, of course, who was taking the photo.
Lionel, the stand in, may already have left for Charlotte. Jan (center top), Ed and John would soon follow.
Andy and Howie would fly back to New York to edit the footage.
A Tribute To The JP Staff
Bill Cosby came to Charlotte many times to videotape commercials at the JP studios. He loved working here. Shortly after he returned to California from his first time working with us, he sent this trophy to the JP staff.
Back atcha, Bill.